Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Mikel Delgado: Cat Is Destroying Screens, Fighting Cats, Cats Eliminating Outside the Litter Box, and More

ask-the-cat-behaviorist

Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Mikel Delgado” segment. Once a month, we’ll post a reminder for you to post your questions for Mikel. She’ll answer as many of them as she can each time, and I’ll publish her answers in a subsequent post.

Mikel is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant at Feline Minds, offering on-site consultations for cat guardians, shelters, and pet-related businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, and remote consultations around the world. She obtained her PhD in Psychology at UC Berkeley, where she studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships. Mikel is co-author of Jackson Galaxy’s newest book, Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat.

Cat keeps going back to former home

Hello Mikel, I hope you are able to offer advice as I am desperate and not sure what to do. We live in the North of New Zealand at Omaha Beach.
We have 2 beautiful 10 year old sister domestic longhair cats -‘Mindy and Maya’ and a medium size labradoodle dog called Lily. They all get along extremely well and Maya and Lily are especially close.

About 2 and a half years ago we sold our home and moved to live in our beach house an hour’s drive further north taking our animal family with us. They were very familiar with this house as we had been holidaying there with them for 10 years or so. We lived there happily for about 2 years while we tried to find a more suitable permanent home.

In November we purchased a more suitable home and moved in. The new home is only a short walk away from the holiday home. After keeping the kitties inside with a litter box for two weeks we finally let them out. Mindy settled in well however Maya left home after about a week and went back to the old place. Initially she was easy to find and bring home but she would keep going back. Once she disappeared there for a month before we found her. We brought her home very thin and hungry – fed her up and she seemed very affectionate and happy but she left again after about 10 days. She has kept going away, sometimes for a few days coming back hungry and wanting affection. Last night she returned at 3am after a 12 day absence – extremely talkative and very hungry. Now she is lounging very relaxed on my bed. I have resisted leaving food out for her at the old house as I don’t want to reinforce that behaviour. I always greet her homecoming with a big feed and a brush which she loves then she snuggles in for a big sleep.

She seems to stay home long enough to recharge her batteries then leaves again. I have no idea how to stop her doing this. Is there anything I can do – HELP
Ps. She was neutered at 6 months old. From our observations she does not appear to be sneaking off to another family. – Helen Penman

Hi Helen,

A few thoughts: assuming you are not willing to transition Maya to indoors only or to secure your yard with cat fencing to prevent this wandering behavior, why not start with a GPS collar so you can track where she goes and find her when she does not come home?

Behaviorally, there are a few things you can work on – one is trying to figure out if there is anything in your new location that might be driving her to return to her old, familiar territory – can you add enrichment and resources inside that would make your new home more exciting to her? Can you make your new yard more interesting with foliage, resting places, and bird-watching opportunities?

It is possible that she is just very attached to her old territory, and that patrolling that space is very rewarding to her. I would also recommend working on a solid recall while you are in your yard – Sarah Ellis and John Bradshaw outline how to do this in their excellent book, The Trainable Cat. With practice, you can increase the chances that she will come back to you when you call her.

Cat suddenly wants to get out through screens

Thanks for offering help/ advice. We have two cats. Marbles, the cat we are having difficulties with, came to live with us (from the streets) 2 1/2 years ago. Recently Marbles began ripping screens apart to get outside. In the time Marbles has been with us, she has never tried to get outside. Now she has destroyed two screens from sliding doors, she darts for the doors whenever anyone enters or leaves the house and is attempting to get through window screens. Once outside she begins to chew on grass. We have cat grass for her inside. We can’t think of anything that has changed to cause this change in behaviour. We have tried sprays on the screens and attaching cloths to the screens with repellent sprays, but nothing seems to work. We can’t let her stay outside… coyotes. We would be thankful for any suggestions you might have. Thanks in advance. – Jeannine

Sometimes we never learn the trigger for a change in behavior, such as a sudden obsession to go outside. My hunch is that there might be some new animals in the neighborhood (you might not see them as they may only come around at night). It could even be something as simple as the changes in the weather that trigger an instinct to roam.

Regardless, to address the screen scratching – rather than using repellent sprays, you may want to secure the inside of screen doors with steel pet grille (available from home improvement stores), or place a baby gate in front of the screen door to prevent her from accessing and scratching the screens, while still allowing air flow.
You can also work on door dashing in a few different ways – one is to establish a “greeting and parting zone” (I prefer something off the ground, such as a cat tree or condo) away from the front door. Be prepared to offer her treats and greet and say goodbye to her THERE. While she is busy with the treat, leave quickly and discreetly. Same thing when you arrive, immediately go to the greeting zone and offer her praise and a treat. She will eventually learn to wait for you there when she hears you opening the door!

Two Savannah cats won’t get along

I have a question & problem: I have 2 Savannah cats, F6 I had 3 years, now, 2 months ago I was given a F2 Savannah, both are fixed females, I did the room thing, let one cat roam the house, put F2{Dami} in her room, while F6 {Montana) roams the house, they smell each other through the door, they also can see each other, lots of growling some hissing, the 2 times they were in the same room Dami goes after Montana, & Montana seems afraid of Dami. How do I get these two girls to be able to LIVE together be together in the same room without going after each other? I refuse to give either one up. I need & love them. – Donna

Hi Donna,
There are plenty of great resources on introducing cats to each other. I also think I have addressed cat to cat introductions in all of my previous columns for The Conscious Cat (and it’s the most common reason I am asked for help).

It sounds like you need to start with the intermediate step of having the cats separated by a partition (stacked baby gates, screen door or similar) so they can see each other but not touch or chase. They should get delicious treats ONLY when they are together. Interactive playtime is another way to help cats show relaxed, confident body language in front of each other.

I don’t blame Montana for seeming afraid of Dami; after all, Dami always chases her. You can work on clicker training Dami to sit, go to a mat, or look at you when the two cats are together. You’ll first want to train these behaviors while Dami is alone, then while Montana is behind a baby gate or screen, then with the cats together.

In addition, decking out your home with lots of vertical space and a plethora of resources will increase the chances of peaceful co-existence, such that the cats can at the very least avoid each other and not have conflict over necessary and desirable resources such as litter boxes, scratching posts and food dishes.

As I said in my last column, cat introduction cases are each so unique that many times working with a behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist is necessary. I know how stressful this situation can be, but if you are determined to keep both cats, you may have to consider a long and slow introduction, as well as on-going management in the meantime.

Cats stopped getting along when mother left

Hello Mikel, Jobie is a grey tabby, and I got him from the church grounds when he was about 3 months. He’s now 13. Three years ago we lost our home, and I moved to the Middle East. Jobie stayed with my niece and her two cats for 6 months before I brought him here. Jobie kept to himself and didn’t interact with them much. My mom came to visit us after 6 months. One month later we adopted a cat from the kennel where Jobie stayed for a week. The staff introduced the two cats. Though they really didn’t like each other they tolerated each other. The new cat, Roo, was 2 yrs at the time, and Jobie was 10. Roo doesn’t like to be picked up, and she’s not a lap cat. She used to bite a lot, but rarely now. The two cats got along ok, they ate together, but never really played together. After four months my mom left, and then hell started about a month later. If they are in the same room they fight like there’s no tomorrow – Jobie got an infection from Roo from a bite or scratch. It’s been almost two years now, and they still can’t be in the same room together – sometimes one of them will attack at the door that the other one is behind. About 8 months ago they stayed together in the kennel for a week with no fighting, but as soon as they got home, they started again. When I let Roo out to roam the house I have to watch her because she will pee on the sofa (Jobie nor I ever sit there or even walk over in that area, he only sits in my easy chair). I’m at my wits end. Both have been fixed and both have a clean bill of health. Help!

I’ve been watching episodes of My Cat from Hell. Do you think Roo pees on that one sofa BECAUSE no one goes there? Like she’s saying, this sofa is MINE. Jobie had full run if the whole house for almost a year before she came, so he’s the king. Is she trying to establish her small area of territory? Also, today, the curtain hanger guys accidentally let Jobie out while Roo was out. Immediately she went into defense mode and her meows were that of distress. I was able to diffuse the situation by putting the laundry basket between them, got her far enough away so that I could put him back in the bathroom. Whenever the fights happen it’s Roo that starts them. Sigh. – Shondale Pagano

Shondale, I highly encourage you to seek out help from a qualified consultant or veterinary behaviorist for this case. We know that once cats have injured each other it decreases the chances of a successful integration. Your cats have both gone through significant stressors (moves, loss of people they were bonded to, introduced to new animals, etc). This can cause what we call “trigger stacking” – perhaps any of those events individually would not have caused a problem, but when added to each other, they send cats past their limit of tolerance! Then the stress-related behaviors (such as intolerance for new animals, or litter box avoidance) kick in.

Your cats need a slow re-introduction, and it would be good to have someone help you look at how the resources in your home are set up to make sure they meet the needs of two cats who don’t get along. Given the history of fights and injuries, you may have to consider behavioral medication for one or both cats if you want these cats to live together. I wish you the best, these cases can be very challenging!

New cat attacks resident cat

Hi Mikel! I have a cat Missi for 9 years, since we found her on a street as a little kitten. She calm and nice cat, but not a lap cat and she never was. Last year we adopted Tulip a cat almost her age. They tolerated each other, Tulip never bothered her, always gave her a space. Sadly, we just lost Tulip a two month ago, she had a lymphoma. Me and my husband were crying every day, so we decide to get another kitty. Last month we adopted Ollie, a little cute kitty, they were saying she is two years old, but it’s hard to believe, I would say, she is around 9-10 month, very small (half Missi’s size), very playful and hunting everything that moves, including Missi. And Missi is not happy about it. Now, it’s a war. A little one attacking Missi each time she sees her, so our cat after 9 years very uncomfortable, she staying in one room and never leave, if Ollie around. We tried everything, a calming things, water spray bottle, nothing worked so far. And we kept them separately in the beginning introducing to each other slowly. Ollie also doesn’t like to be touched, no petting or picking up, she is biting and scratching. And her foster mom told us totally different, that Ollie is very social, very gentle, never scratched and she is very good with the other cats. Nothing in a description match. So, now we don’t know what to do, we love her and we want to keep her, I’m not happy with a bites and scratching, but I can live with it. The most important to us, that we want Missi to be happy and comfortable and I don’t know how to stop Ollie attacking her. Now, as soon as she attack, I lock her in a bedroom, not sure if this going to work. So, we need help. Thank you. – Yelena Aronson

Hello! I’m so sorry you lost Tulip, and I’m sorry you’re having issues integrating Ollie with Missi. A young, active cat with a more sedentary senior can be a challenging match! They both have separate needs – Ollie to play and wrestle and run around and have fun, and for Ollie – probably to relax and lay in the sun and watch butterflies out the window!

I would not assume that the foster mom deceived you – for many cats, behavior depends on the context. And perhaps Ollie is great with other cats, but Missi is not, or this just isn’t a match made in heaven.

To help these cats get along, you are going to have to do a few things: 1) re-introduce them slowly, based on positive experiences (lots of treats when they are together and no spray bottles!), with a lot of controlled interactions (such as using baby gates to prevent chasing and fights); 2) Ollie needs A LOT more exercise to blow off all that energy. In some cases, another companion kitty for Ollie (young and active) can help diffuse tension between an old and young kitty. But you should also give her more interactive play, as well as enrichment to keep her busy otherwise (solo play toys, food puzzles, and the like).

Regarding the biting and scratching, let Ollie call the shots for a while. Stop picking her up, and let her solicit petting, rather than forcing attention on her. Keep petting sessions short, making sure to stop before she gets irritated. And, more playtime will help her be calm and relaxed and sleepy – and that’s when she might be up for a few pets.

New kitten not getting along with other cats

We brought a kitten in to our home and took it day by day to introduce the other animals to each other. But one of our cats is still hissing and growling at her sister and our new kitten it’s been three weeks now. What can we do to help, it seems like our new kitten just wants to play and the other two are not having it. – Michelle

Michelle, see my other responses about cat relationships – a lot of questions about intercat conflict this time around! If the hissing and growling are not escalating to fights or chasing, and your older cat is not showing other signs of stress, then they just may need more time. But you also said that both of your other cats are “not having it” which makes it sound like the problem may be a bit more serious.

As always, a slow introduction, lots of supervision, lots of play (or a playmate) for the youngest cat (although all cats in these situations benefit from the stress-reducing properties of playtime), and time are your friends. And of course, taking a hard look at your home and making sure it is adequately “catified” for three cats! And…it’s never a bad idea to call in a behavior expert to help you out!

New cat is not adjusting well

Hi, my family has recently adopted a 2 year old cat who isn’t adjusting as well as we had hoped. Because she has moved around quite a few times in her life (most recently due to hurricane Irma) we don’t want to move her again and hope she can fit with us. She is very loving towards me, but I am about to move away for college and want to make sure she is comfortable before I leave.

Some stressors in my home include a 5 year old child, and another cat who is about 10. The new cat is beginning to warm up to my younger sister, but my older cat is posing an issue. The older cat is significantly smaller than our new cat, and although the older cat seemed to want to be friends with the new cat at first, they both act aggressively towards each other now.

She seems to do very well when I am at home and will allow other family members to give her attention, but if I am away she likes to stay in my room and avoid my family. I’m not sure how to acclimate her and I’m nervous that my leaving for college will eventually lead to her relocation yet again. – Bethany

Hi Bethany, it sounds like there are two issues, your new cat’s relationship with the resident cat, and the new cat’s fearfulness (assuming that she is avoiding your family and staying in your room because she is afraid of them and not because of the relationship with your other cat).

I’m not going to rehash the “helping cats get along” recommendations I’ve already made this month. If your new kitty is fearful of everyone but you, I’d be sure to pick someone who can be her “advocate” while you are gone. This person should spend time with you and the new cat so she can learn to trust another family member besides you. Show that person what your new cat likes, such as how she likes to be petted and played with. Make sure that your new cat has plenty of appropriate enrichment, such as vertical territory and hiding spaces throughout the home so she can feel safe while being part of the goings-on in the household, rather than just retreating to your room. However, she should NEVER be forced to interact with anyone or a situation she is fearful of. She needs to get comfortable at her pace.
I’m also a huge fan of using interactive toys to help scared cats build their confidence. Toys and treats can be used to lure her out of your bedroom and help her get more comfortable in other parts of the home. Perhaps eventually while you are at college you can get a place of your own where you can have pets and bring this new kitty with you. It does sound like she is most attached to you and that could be the best situation for her!

New cat attacks 18-year -old resident cat

Hi Mikel, I’m having a problem with my 18 year old tortie, Callie. When I first got her 10 years ago she was very friendly towards other cats and was never aggressive, even if another cat hissed, growled, or swatted at her she’d just walk away. When I still lived with my parents my mom’s cat would attack her constantly and she put up with it for years but eventually she started to fight back, and my mom’s cat usually left her alone after that.

I moved into a new place a few years ago and it seemed like she was lonely, she’d still spend time with me but she’d wander around the house crying, she never did that before and I had been told that could be a sign of depression. Since she was always friendly with other cats I ended up adopting another one from the local animal control shelter and she had no problem with the new arrival, but after the new cat got used to the place and stopped being scared she decide she just did not like Callie and was very aggressive any time they were in the same room (hissing, yowling, ears laid back, etc.), and if Callie would try to walk past she would get attacked. This went on for a few months and I tried several different things, like re-introducing them through a door, feeding them near each other, and alternating having one of them in a spare bedroom while the other had the run of the house but nothing helped. I didn’t want to rehome my new cat but I didn’t really have another option, so she now lives with my parents after their other cat died.

Callie will now hiss and growl at any other cat that comes near her, I can’t really blame her because of what happened but what can I do to get her back to being the friendly cat she used to be? I volunteer at an animal rescue and am currently fostering one of our “problem children” and have adopted another, both of which she wants nothing to do with even if all they want to do is play. I really would like for them to get along but I’m not sure what to try at this point. – Ted

Ted, there is a strong possibility that Callie has had it with other cats! Just like we humans, some cats become more set in their ways as they age and don’t relish major life changes or a new roommate they didn’t ask for!

At her age, she very likely would like to just take it easy and relax. Even if other cats approach her in a playful manner, she may not receive their advances in that way. She may see it as annoying, or even threatening. I would also consider the problems that chronic stress may cause a geriatric cat and whether it is worth integrating these cats. Assuming you have done the standard slow re-introduction, and have adequate resources for 3 cats, you may have to consider long-term management, keeping Callie in her own area (with everything she needs to be comfy and happy) for times where you can’t supervise her interactions with the cats. I would highly prioritize Callie’s happiness at this stage in her life!

Working with a consultant would also be helpful, because there may be aspects of the “problem children’s” behavior that you can work on modifying to increase your chances of success!

Cat’s behavior changed after vacation

My 2nd cat my wife and I adopted a year and 3 months ago was a cat who was found abandoned in an apartment with her and her kitten. She is the smallest grown I’ve ever seen. She got along great with my other cat Minerva, Luna was skittish her first few days. However my cats have a room of their own. She loved to lay in my wife’s lap in the recliner at night, etc. They played all the time woke me up to feed them at daylight. But in January we adopted a 3rd cat who was going to be just dropped at a kill shelter because the owner broke up with his girl and he couldn’t do it alone and was moving. His mother knowing we have two and love them asked us to take Bella so now we have Minerva (1st) Luna(2nd) and Bella last. We did the introduction properly they took 3-4 days to get along completely and want to play they played great They ate the same foods, in the same room feet apart at the same time.

In March we had to go to Orlando for 3 days. We came back home and everything seemed fine. A week later Luna was urinating in My wife’s closet and under her desk she would eat litter if it spilled on the floor. Then she started staying inside the booda dome litter box. She just laid in there all day and night I had to physically take her out a few times and bring her in the living room with me. Then I took the lid off it to stop that hiding so she got inside my hamper in my bathroom opposite end of the house she stopped eating we thought she had urinary infection. So we took her to the vet and of course in the exam room she’s walking around looking around she even eats the treats they have. They thought it was emotional that maybe the new cat and our trip and the new paint in the house. They advised we get the pheromone diffuser and see if she would venture back out to the rest of the home. So I bought her a new tree put it in her room in front of the window it has an apartment so she can get cover If she wants. I haven’t seen any fighting at all by the way. So the tree and pheromone seemed to start working to an extent she lost two pounds during the sickness. She went from 8.2 down to 5.7. She was only nibbling when eating but I noticed she would stop when Minerva watched her almost like Minerva bullied her. Still haven’t saw any fighting or aggression. She now is eating her morning meal and sometimes comes in to eat a nibble on her own. If she eats it’s because I go in there pick her up and carry her to the food. I started that because I needed her to eat more. Weight isn’t coming back on her. But she doesn’t seem afraid Or anything she will let me hold her and carry her around the house even sit in the dining room but if I bring her in the living room and sit in my recliner she immediately wants down and leaves back to her tree. She stays in that tree all day and night and seems afraid of something in here. It’s making her not eat like she did. She will not play with the others I can get her to chase laser but she used to be so intrigued by my flashlight because it’s a small direct beam so she chases it. If she heard it come on she would come to where I was. Not anymore. She doesn’t mind them in her tree or room but she wants to just lay in there and do nothing. I feed them at the same time everyday but I either have to go bring her to the food or bring it to her. Can’t get her to lay with me in my bed she won’t sit in my lap in living room. She has started meowing a little when I go in there to check on her it’s the deep meow almost a bark/chirp. She’s trying to tell me something. She was the cat that even talked to me with her eyes. I hate seeing her look so skinny and bored and just miserable. I can’t get the vet to say anything other than emotional issue. I recently have started her on kitten chow to get weight on in case her weight is so low she’s weak? She’s 5.9lbs. Never been a big cat. Her healthy weight was 7.8 at its highest. I don’t know what kind of cat she is she’s grey and white just two white spots on nose and chest and paws. They are all spayed. What could be the issue that has lasted this long? Could something have happened in the Living room area traumatic? Still don’t know what caused the hiding and litter box sleeping/staying.

I even would hold her through the night and let her sleep under my blanket so she could “hide” she slowly went from hamper to window sill. I am a disabled Iraq veteran I did have a seizure March 3 and was in the hospital after it. 6 days I was away. My seizure was the worst ever since they just started and my house was a wreck when my wife came home and found me 6 hours later. I was blacked out from a Tuesday evening to Thursday am early. I ripped shower curtain down and turned stove on was drinking water from faucet like she used to. I just thought of the seizure possibly being traumatizing. We went to Orlando 6 days after I got out of the hospital. So it All happened fast. Is it possible I scared her that badly? That she will not come in here or sit in this chair with me? My eldest cat Minerva knows when I’m going to seize and will nudge my chin upward so my head isn’t falling like you do when dozing off. She’s a large cat 32” from nose to tail tip and 11lbs.

So new cat, seizure, uti, new paint , new litter box the booda, “vacation” hospital stay for me , but how do I get her to start coming in here and playing again? Weight gain I have grass for them all over two trees , two rooms for them scratchers and toys all around catnip and she loves catnip treats. How can I get my angel back? – Joseph Jones

Hi Joseph,

I’m very concerned about the weight loss your cat is experiencing and if I were you, I would immediately get a second opinion about your cat’s health, perhaps from a veterinary behaviorist who can let you know if some type of medical intervention is needed for your cat’s changes in both behavior and weight. Even if your cat has no “medical issue,” it is obvious that something in the household is stressing her out to the extent that she may need to be on anti-anxiety medication. Your newest kitty has gone through several stressors in the past seven months, and she may be predisposed (possibly due to genetic makeup or early life experiences) to have a stronger than average response to stress.

In the meantime, have you tried separating her from your other cats to see if there is a change in her behavior? Even though you haven’t seen any exchanges between them yourself, it is possible that either there are negative interactions that happen in your absence, or that the conflict is of the subtle type – so a break from the other cats is one way to try to determine if that is affecting her behavior.

As far as building confidence and helping cats recover from stress, providing her with a calm, quiet environment with plenty of hiding spots, elevated perches, scratching posts would be the first stop. I’m a big fan of interactive play time as a stress-reduction tactic! But first, I suspect that your cat needs some more medical support to prevent more weight loss and get her emotionally back on track.

Cat with neurological problems

Hello Kitty People, I have a male kitty who is just the sweetest boy ever. He was a barn cat rescue and I have had him with me for about 9 years now – I assume he is nearly 10. He is very lovable, loves attention and new people, and is very social. When he came into my care he had some people issues, like he would get incredibly uncomfortable if anyone picked him up – but all these years later he is the most docile and trusting feline I have ever met… although, he has one incredibly annoying quirk that makes so many ‘animal lovers’ nearly hate him.

He will be in the room, spending time with the people… then out of nowhere get up – walk into the living room, and just scream at the top of his lungs. It doesn’t last long, he doesn’t scream for hours – just 4-5 long winded, incredibly loud yowls – that saddest sound you may have ever heard. It sounds like something is terribly wrong, and I can’t even imagine what it must sound like to a neighbor that may hear him. He will do this at random times, even in the middle of the night – He will get up from being curled up on the bed with me, go to another room, and just cry.

Usually – for many years, all I (or anyone) would have to do is call him, and he would come back in like “Oh there you are! I got lost!” almost as if he had completely forgotten he was not alone. He has always displayed separation anxiety, which I have handled to the best of my ability – currently there are 3 humans around, and he is never actually alone – but all 3 of us have far different schedules. Which makes this next part tough.

He recently developed (on 3 separate occasions over the last year) severe bouts of Ataxia. There have been no lapses in the past 6 months, but we are discovering (My guess is due to that Ataxia or as a secondary symptom) that my boy may very well be mostly, or completely deaf now. He cannot hear people calling him, you can walk in the door and unless he sees you he doesn’t realize you are there, you can clap your hands and he does not react. This has increased the volume at which he will yell, at any random time during the day or night when he feels lonely.

Apparently, I don’t even wake up to this anymore and is, of course; more of a problem for my sleeping roommate and boyfriend. I dread the day where it becomes a problem for my apartment community. I just don’t know what to do – I never expected my “fix” to his screaming (calling him back) would be… well useless! Now that he can’t hear me, or himself for that matter.

The 1st time I saw him become so off-balance, he couldn’t even walk – this lasted around a full week – where he couldn’t even get to the cat box himself – The vet explained the likely 3 causes of this kind of symptom, and explained she was convinced it was neurological. I do not doubt this as he has always displayed some neurological… oddities… and the other causes were incredibly unlikely. My main concern – How can I possibly help break, or cope with this random screaming, when he can’t hear me? I just don’t know what to do.

I am sorry this was so long winded, please – if anyone has ideas? Or have experienced this kind of thing – I could really use some wisdom! 🙂 – Thank you. Nova

Hi Nova! I hope that your vet is giving you good guidance on working with his neurological issues. I would also recommend seeing a specialist in Neurology if you can.
In regards to the meowing – we first always make sure the cat has everything that he or she needs and that there are no medical issues causing discomfort. With cats who may have declining (or lost) senses, helping them out with the other senses can be beneficial. For example, a light night, and some “scent landmarks” such as cat grass, cat nip, and self-grooming aids (like the Corner Comber or the Catit Spa) placed in set locations, can prevent him from feeling lost and help him map out his territory in other ways.

Because you have rewarded this behavior in the past (by “talking back” to him) it may take a while for him to give up. You need to completely ignore his meowing behavior; if he learns that someone gets up, brings him back to bed, comforts him, etc then he has no reason not to keep trying! After all, sometimes it pays off!
Since it is a particular problem at night, you can also help him settle at night by giving him some interactive playtime and a significant meal near your bedtime. A heated cat bed that is turned on only at night can also help some kitties settle down for bed. Good luck with your sweet boy!

Cat won’t eat out of a bowl

So I have kind of a weird question, but I have a 1 year old male cat (at the moment he’s the only one we have) and we got him when he was about 3 weeks old, the person who had him was giving him away as an 8 week old kitten so we didn’t know about that (he had birth defects and she “couldn’t deal with it”). She had weaned him onto solid dry food, so naturally he wasn’t eating enough or properly and we got him back on formula and tried to get him on wet food but he wasn’t too interested. The older he got the harder it was to actually get him to eat and he wasn’t gaining weight, so I started hand feeding him dry AND wet food, with mixed results on whether he’d actually eat it. Now, at a year old, he won’t touch wet food and he’ll eat dry food but only if we sit down and put the pieces in front of him to eat. He will very occasionally eat out of the bowl on his own, and I’m not sure how to get him to keep doing that and teach him he needs to eat on his own out of the bowl by himself. He’ll only eat a few pieces at a time. So I guess my main question is what do you think would be the best way to teach him to eat on his own? – Ashley D

Ashley, the first place I would start is a visit with your veterinarian. Although people assume cats are “picky eaters” sometimes a digestive issue is behind a cat’s needing excessive encouragement to eat. It is also possible that either (1) your cat has trained you to give him attention in exchange for eating at meal time or (2) he feels threatened by something in the environment and needs the security of your presence when he is eating to feel safe.

In the case of reason 1, you can train your cat to get attention and treats in other ways, by using clicker training to teach him to sit, high five, go to his carrier, etc. You can sit with him while he starts to eat, then try leaving him earlier and earlier until he gets used to eating without you there for the entire meal.

To make sure your kitty feels safe, take a look at how the resources are laid out in your home. Can he see if anyone is coming while he eats? Try moving his food dish to a more open location where he can see what is happening around him or try feeding him in an elevated location, such as on his cat tree. You didn’t mention if there are other animals or lots of people in your home, but vertical space, litter boxes in safe but easily accessible places, lots of scratching posts and other enrichment is a great way to help cats feel more secure in their territory.

Should he stop eating, call your vet ASAP. We know that it can be dangerous for cats to not eat – so a “hunger strike” should never be ignored!

Litter box problems

Hi Mikel, I have a couple of questions regarding urination.

1) my 5 year old cat Grayson has, in the past year, started doing this thing in the litter box, where he will start peeing in the box, but often step one paw out of the box for balance, but then he will edge forward as close as he can to the edge of the box and then start turning to the side, almost as though he is looking at his tail. this causes his bottom to move over the edge of the box, and he ends up peeing on the floor. At other times he will start peeing and then walk out of the box and then turn to the side a bit, again, peeing on the floor.

A couple of notes – a) at 6 years he was diagnosed with epilepsy, and since this time he has slowly had more and more trouble balancing on the edge of the box which is his preferred way to go. he also has trouble successfully jumping on things. b) we have tried wider boxes, higher sides, and lower sides. we haven’t tried one with high sides all around because he can’t jump well all the time and i think he could get stuck if it’s one of those days.

Any tips?

2) my second cat, Mia, has been with us for about two years. Mia uses the litterbox well, but also pees outside the litter box. To start it was on washing or towels that are lying around – easy fix. but recently she peed on the vacuum cleaner cord, on my shoes for the first time, and on our bed. I haven’t noticed a pattern in where she is choosing to go, so I don’t think its territorial. It happens sometimes no times a week, and sometimes 5 times in a week (and I know there are probably some we haven’t found.)

She doesn’t have a health issue as we have had her checked out, and it happens so randomly.

I do wonder if it is anxiety? the vacuum episode recently happened and it was 3 days after we shifted bedrooms in our house. I am not sure if that caused anxiety.
My main wonder is whether it could be anxiety from our other cat? When we first got Mia we introduced them slowly, and after a week they seemed to be okay and started to be out together. Mia used to growl at Grayson if he went near her food etc. Stand her ground. Slowly we noticed her letting him take her food (we sorted this by staggering their feeding by a few minutes and keeping him away), and she didn’t growl anymore. Grayson chases her around the house a lot, and I don’t think it is always playful because she will often his at him, but he will continue, and sometimes hold her down – never making physical injuries but she could well be very scared? sometimes she will start the chasing though, or play at him with his tail etc. but there are times he will e.g. corner her under a couch. Also, when we try to play with them Grayson will just play on his back for a minute or two and get bored, but Mia will play. but then he will see her playing with us and come over to join in. often she will then stay back and not participate as much.

Do you think that Grayson is causing her anxiety and scaring her? and would that cause her to seemingly randomly pee in different places?
how can we improve this behaviour? how can we stop him terrorizing her, and in turn hopefully stop all the wee? – Thanks, Emily

Hello Emily, first, you need to take a good hard look at your litter box situation. A cat who balances on the edges of the litter box is typically doing so because they don’t want to touch the kitty litter with their feet. It could be because the box is too dirty, or they don’t like the kind of litter you are using. This could also be related to Mia’s recent litter box avoidance. The style of the box is also important. You can modify a jumbo, high-sided storage bin to accommodate Grayson by cutting an entry way in one side. You could also offer a washer drip pan as a litter box where he could easily walk in and out. The fact that he starts and stops urinating is a bit concerning and given his neurological issues, I would discuss this change in his behavior with your vet. You’ll also want to get Mia checked to rule out any urinary health issues.
You didn’t mention how many boxes you have but with two cats, we recommend three boxes (that’s right, the number of cats you have PLUS one box). These boxes should be cleaned at least once daily, and most cats prefer a soft, granular, clumping clay litter.

It also sounds like there are conflicts between the two cats, and I have already addressed some ways to work with that in my other responses in this column. It is possible that the tension is contributing to Mia’s urination issues. Draw a quick map of your home and where she is peeing and you may see a pattern that is not apparent to you right now.

When playing with Grayson, try switching to a different toy when he starts to lose interest in the first. Many cats get bored of a toy before they get bored of playing! Play with Mia on her own in a separate room so she can let loose without his interference.

With both cat-to-cat conflict and litter box avoidance, you’ll best be served by a consultant who can come to your home to observe the environment and get the full back story on your case!

Do you have a question for Mikel?
Leave it in a comment, and she’ll answer
as many of your questions as she can next month!

6 Comments on Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Mikel Delgado: Cat Is Destroying Screens, Fighting Cats, Cats Eliminating Outside the Litter Box, and More

  1. Karen
    October 8, 2018 at 10:43 am (2 months ago)

    Hi Mikel,

    I love this column and you offer such great advice for cat owners! You have answered quite a few questions about cats that don’t get along in your previous columns. I just want to get your thoughts on a similar situation. I have two cats both neutered males that are now about 8 years old that were adopted from a rescue. They were about a year old at the time and the rescue thought they might have been litter mates. They never really seemed bonded but did tolerate each other relatively well. There is also a dog in the home that they both have always gotten along well with. In their previous home they were indoor/outdoor cats and we intended to make them indoor but because they were having some issues we did relent and let them return to their indoor/outdoor lifestyle. We thought that this would increase their territory and give them more enrichment during the day and give them less reason to fight. Unfortunately they continue to fight outside as well as inside now and the problem seems to growing worse. I am thinking I should re-home one of them. It always is one cat that is picking on the other, out of the blue he will just lash out and slap him or chase him out of a spot he is sleeping in for no reason. It isn’t any particular spot in the home and of course reading all of Jackson Galaxy’s books our home has plenty of sleeping spots, cat trees, scratching posts (which they really don’t us a lot of) etc.
    they can sit together on the couch or the bed with us without fighting and we often try to reward them when they are being good.
    So my question is, why, with what seems like plenty of territory and ways to fill their time do they continue to fight and is there anything we can do at this point to turn this relationship around or is re-homing one our best alternative.
    Thanks! Karen

    Reply
  2. Tonia Lin
    October 3, 2018 at 9:58 am (2 months ago)

    Hi I have a 1 year old sphynx cat. For some reason he keeps biting the side of his food bowl when he’s trying to eat. Constantly chewing on the side of his bowl. I’ve read that cats usually eat from the center of their bowls because their whiskers will hit the sides of the bowl and cause discomfort. However, he does not have wiskers(stubs) because of his breed. Any suggestions on why he’s doing this?Thank you for your time
    Tonia

    Reply
  3. Fran
    August 13, 2018 at 9:49 am (4 months ago)

    Hi!
    I sent a question months ago about my two cats getting along (quick context: me and my boyfriend moved in together and his 2 year old female cat and my 1 year old female cat couldn’t get along AT ALL; we keep them in separate spaces of the apartment for MONTHS until recently, when they started to “coexist”).

    My situation now is as follows: even then they coexist, and the older cat isn’t aggressive with the younger cat anymore, sometimes they’re both chilling in peace (sleeping in our bed, for example), and the older cat out of the blue comes for the younger cat and slap her in the face/body, but just one time. She does this quickly and then leaves, after just one slap, so I assume she’s not looking for a fight. Still, the younger cat freaks out and gets very scared.

    Do you have recommendations of how we can manage her slapping behavior? They can coexist now without wanting to kill each other, which is a MAJOR improvement, but it is exhausting being aware of what the cats are doing all the time because we don’t want that the slap turns into a fight, obviously. Also the older cat is much bigger than the younger, and we don’t want any accidents.

    We’ve tried to speak in an severe tone when the older cat is approaching the younger, when we can tell that she’s up to no good, and that sometimes works and the older cat gives up her desires of slapping the other cat, but still, we want a more long term solution to our problem.

    Reply
  4. Donna
    August 4, 2018 at 6:45 am (4 months ago)

    I have 2 Savannah cats F6 & F2 both fixed females a couple months difference in age (4 years old. I’ve had Montana {F6} since she was 9 months old,
    I just adopted Dami {F2} 3 months ago. I did the spate rooms, they can see each other, smell each others sent , I change them around, during the day while I at work, Dami has the run of the house, Montana is up stirs, 2 full rooms, when I get home I put Dami in her room, let Montana out, take her out for walk, put her in her play pen, get Dami take her for a walk.
    PROBLEM: Dami goes after Montana! Montana seems afraid of Dami, been doing this for the 3 months months. What can I do now to get them to being in the same area together? I dont want either one to get hurt.

    Reply
  5. Suzanne Doin
    August 1, 2018 at 7:15 am (5 months ago)

    We have two indoor Siberian/Maine Coon mix female cats that we adopted as kittens, Vanya and Valentine, that are now 10 years old; we also have a semi-feral, Jack, who resides on our deck. No behavior problems until about 3 years ago when Vanya developed a urinary tract infection; she was treated for that and a while after became very territorial: she would leave “poopers” by the doors going outside, which I could deal with but then began urinating out side of the cat boxes (we do have 3 boxes); vet checked her again for urinary infections, negative on that, said her problems were behavioral, so we did the feliaway plug in’s to calm her, gave her vet prescribed Solliquin. She hisses at our other cat, also when people other than my husband and I try to pet her. I tried isolating Vanya to a room overnight with the urinating behavior providing a litter box, water, favorite toys and bed as she seemed to be doing the urinating outside the box at night. This worked for a while, then started up again when I let her roam at night, and she even urinated in the room while having freedom to be anywhere in the house at night. I have had carpets ruined from he urinating behavior and am at my wits end as to how to deal with this. I love her dearly, she will be very good for a while, sometimes even several months, then bad behavior again. We do live where there is wildlife outdoors and have wondered if the behavior is triggered by animals that may be around at night, so close blinds where I have them to prevent her seeing out but of course, am sure that she may hear and sense when they may be close to the house. Help!!!! Also should say that Vanya is very attached to me, follows me around house when ver I am here.

    Reply
  6. Dianne
    August 1, 2018 at 3:40 am (5 months ago)

    Hi, I recently adopted a girl rescue cat aged 7, she is so soft and gentle and loving
    I already have 3 rescue cats 2 boys aged 6 and 4 and a petite girl aged 5 and a half
    To begin with I kept the new kitty separate and did slow introductions which went very well, yes there was the odd his from mainly my boy cats but I was very happy with their progress
    The new kitty is not the fighting type and will stand up for herself if needed but just backs away
    My 3 previous cats come into the living room supervised were new kitty stays, but I am a bit concerned that the new cat hides and doesent explore other parts of the home, I think she I sent confident enough from the other 3
    Yes she seems happy in the living room but this is not suitable long term, I realise it is only early days but how can I help so that we don’t go backwards in our progress?
    I realise that there will be bumps and they won’t always see eye to eye but would welcome any advice
    Thank you
    Dianne

    Reply

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